Press Release: Anti-Slavery International calls on the European Parliament not to enter into Uzbek trade deal tainted by forced labour
7 November 2016
- European Parliament Trade Committee considers a bi-lateral Uzbek textiles treaty despite widespread forced labour concerns
- New documentary shows fresh evidence of forced labour used in 2016 cotton harvest in Uzbekistan
Anti-Slavery International called on the European Parliament not to proceed with consent to the trade deal with Uzbekistan because of widespread use of state sponsored forced labour in its cotton industry.
The Textile Protocol, a trade treaty between the European Union and Uzbekistan, is due to be voted on by the European Parliament Committee on International Trade (INTA) next week. This vote will set the course for the plenary vote scheduled in December.
Anti-Slavery, alongside other organisations from the Cotton Campaign coalition, call for halting the deal amid concerns over continued widespread use of forced labour by the Uzbek government in its cotton production.
Every year Uzbekistan, one of the world’s largest producer of cotton, forces millions of people out of their regular jobs and sends them to the cotton fields to toil for weeks in arduous and hazardous conditions, with cases of people dying in fields from extreme heat and accidents.
Those who refuse to participate have to pay large sums to buy themselves free and face threats, intimidation and punishment. Activists trying to monitor the situation are routinely harassed and abused by the regime.
“The passing of the Textile Protocol the EU would de facto give a green card to trade in forced labour produced goods,” said Klara Skrivankova, UK & Europe Programme Manager at Anti-Slavery International.
“The European Parliament should reject this raw deal with Uzbekistan,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia Researcher at Human Rights Watch. “At a time when over a million Uzbek citizens are forced to pick cotton in the fields and rights activists who document it are being attacked, the Parliament should be on the right side of history, rather than on the side of cotton tainted by forced labour.”
Although Uzbekistan has in recent years responded to pressure and stopped forcing children into the fields en masse, the system of state sponsored forced labour remains intact. Child labour was replaced by forcible mobilisation of adults on a massive scale, including university students and workers from schools and hospitals.
Umida Niyazova, Director of the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, said: “The European Parliament cannot pretend that the human rights concerns over Uzbekistan ended with children no longer sent out to the fields, whilst it’s their teachers and so many others suffer instead”.
New documentary delivers fresh evidence of forced labour:
Coinciding with the debate over the Textile Protocol, Anti-Slavery International released a new documentary evidencing abuses in this year’s harvest.
The nine-minute documentary features interviews with cotton pickers and follows activists monitoring the harvest, disproving claims that citizens pick cotton voluntarily.
Workers taking part in the harvest talk about the awful conditions in the fields, with many people having to sleep on the floor of school gyms, sometimes with no running water, and having to work for hours in sweltering heat. The interviews also confirm that they go to the fields under a clear threat of being fired from their jobs.
The activists interviewed in the video explain the forced labour system and recount the abuses they suffer from the regime for having the courage to campaign against the system, including being locked up in a psychiatric ward, being made to pay large fines, and detention and beatings.
“The documentary will leave the viewer in no doubt over the impact of the cotton crimes on the Uzbek people.” said Klara Skrivankova.
“We hope the members of the European Parliament will watch it as well and vote to halt a trade deal which would result in the EU profiting from their misery.”
The documentary is also available to view and share on YouTube: https://youtu.be/cZUWZT0pOmc.
Note to editors:
For more information and to arrange interviews please contact Anti-Slavery International Communications Manager Jakub Sobik on 07789 936 383 or at email@example.com. More background information on forced labour in Uzbekistan can be also found at https://www.antislavery.org/english/campaigns/cottoncrimes/forced_labour_in_uzbekistan_background.aspx.
Anti-Slavery International works end all forms of slavery and slavery like practices across the world. The organisation is encouraging their supporters to ask the Committee on International Trade (INTA) via Twitter to halt the deal. Campaigners can take action via Anti-Slavery International’s website at www.antislavery.org/cottoncrimes.
Uzbek German Forum for Human Rights is an organisation promoting and protecting human rights and justice in Uzbekistan. Contact the director Umida Niyazova: +49-17687-532684, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Cotton Campaign is a global coalition of labour, human rights, investor and business organisations coalesced to end forced labour in the cotton sector of Uzbekistan. Anti-Slavery International, Human Rights Watch and Uzbek German Forum for Human Rights are all members.